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Long Beach Army Air Field
(Naval Reserve Air Base, Long Beach; Daugherty Field; Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Long Beach)

The Naval Reserve Air Base at Long Beach, or Daugherty Field, began in a much different way. In 1923, the Long Beach City Council set aside 150 acres near the intersection of Spring and Cherry Streets for use as an airfield. The airfield was later named Daugherty Field after Earl S. Daugherty, a Navy Lieutenant (junior grade) and one of the area's pioneer aviators.

This new airport enabled the city of Long Beach to gain access to the nation's infant air transportation system. (1) The first airport operator's lease was issued on April 7, 1925.

To attract the U.S. Navy, the City of Long Beach built a hangar and a administrative building and then offered to lease it to the Navy for $1 a year for the establishment of the Naval Reserve Air Base. On May 10, 1928, the U.S. Navy commissioned the field as a Naval Reserve Air Base (NRAB Long Beach). Two years later, the city built a hangar and administrative building for the Army Air Corps as well. It should be stated that the only significant developments to the little city airport began only after the city built hangars and administrative facilities for the Army and Navy in 1928-30.

As a Naval Reserve Air Base, the mission was to instruct, train and drill Naval Reserve aviation personnel. A ground school was offered three nights a week at the base and two nights a week at the University of California in Los Angeles until 1930, when ground school was continuously offered at the base. On April 9, 1939, training in night flight began, and shortly thereafter its facilities began to be used by fleet aircraft as well.

However, with increased air activity by commercial airlines and the private airplane industry, particularly with Douglas Aircraft showing an interest in the Long Beach Municipal Airport, the little municipal airport simply had to have more room. With Douglas Aircraft as a resident, the attitude of Long Beach's authorities became cold and openly hostile to naval aviation, with its city manager saying that "the sooner the Navy gets out of the Long Beach airport, the better we will like it."

Due to this hostile attitude, and unknown to city officials at the time, the Navy had begun a survey for a more suitable site. Nevertheless, Admiral Ernest J. King, then the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, and Admirals William D. Leahy, Joseph K. Taussig, and Allen E. Smith pointedly demanded the city of Long Beach to repair the hazardous runways and simply reminded the city that the Pacific Fleet, then laying offshore in both Long Beach and San Pedro harbors, had a payroll of over $1 million a month. Of course, that was a lot of money in those days and the city complied with the Navy's demands.

Still, the city continued to show a hostile attitude toward approving a lease on any additional land that the Naval Reserve now required.

The Navy there upon, fed up with the city of Long Beach, decided upon the purchase of some property owned by a Mrs. Susanna Bixby Bryant, a fact made known by the commander of the base, Commander Thomas A. Gray, to the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, Admiral John H. Towers. The circumstances behind the purchase were revealed to James V. Forrestal, Under Secretary of the Navy, and by him to the House Naval Affairs committee who approved the purchase. Although Comdr. Gray had offered Mrs. Bryant $350 an acre, in the best patriotic spirit she sold the property at $300 an acre.

With the site acquired, in 1941, construction funds soon followed and NAS Los Alamitos began to take shape. Upon the transfer of the Naval Reserve Training Facility to Los Alamitos, quite to the surprise of city officials of Long Beach, in 1942, instead of returning the Naval Reserve Air Base facilities at Long Beach to the city, the Navy simply turned over the facilities to the U.S. Army Air Corps (2), which had also established a training base adjacent to it.

Nevertheless, with war clouds on the horizon, the NARB Long Beach was not totally abandoned but simply downgraded to that of a Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS).

The 1940s was an extraordinarily busy time for the Long Beach airport. Throughout World War II, the air field was given over to the war effort. In August, 1941, the Civil Aeronautics Administration took over control of the airport, which had increased to 500 acres. Once Los Alamitos became an operational base in 1941, NAAS Long Beach now turned to servicing carrier borne F4Fs, SBDs, FM-2s, F4Us, F6Fs, TBF/TBMs, and SB2Cs. In addition, it had utility aircraft and such patrol planes as the PBY, SNB, GB3, NH, GH, and SNJ.

As the Navy's activities began to be shifted to Los Alamitos, the Long Beach Army Airfield at Long Beach became the home of the Army's Air Transport Command's Ferrying Division, which included a squadron of 18 women pilots commanded by Barbara London, a long time Long Beach aviatrix.

Like the Naval Air Ferry Command at NAS Terminal Island, the Army's ferrying work was an immense undertaking, thanks to Douglas Aircraft's wartime production. Ground breaking for the initial Douglas Aircraft facility occurred in November 1940, with dedication in October 1941. Douglas had been drawn to Long Beach primarily because of the presence of the town's growing municipal airport and the presence of both the Army and Navy there. With wartime contracts, the company immediately went into intensive production. The company's first C-47 was delivered 16 days after the attack of Pearl Harbor, and another 4,238 were produced during the war. Additionally, the plant turned out some 1,000 A-20 Havocs, not to mention 3,000 B-17 Flying Fortresses and 1,156 A-26 Invaders.

With the end of the war, the U.S. Navy abandoned any use of the Long Beach Municipal Airport facility completely, and with it, the designation of Long Beach as a Naval Auxiliary Air Station.

Footnotes

(1) Prior to the establishment of Daugherty Field the only so-called "airport" in Long Beach was the city's huge, crescent-shaped beach. Landings and takeoffs were best made at low tides, and it was common to see fabric-covered biplanes flying off the sand amidst ocean spray.

(2) The Army Air Corps facility was the first stop for many a Californian who signed up to become Army fighter pilots in World War II. For a brief time, also flying out of Long Beach during the wartime era was Capt. Eddie Rickenbacher's 94th Pursuit Squadron ("The Hat in the Ring Squadron") and the Army Air Corps' "Flying Sergeants" in their P38s.

Known Units at Long Beach

Present 7 December 1941

Ninth Corps Area, Air Corps Detachment
307th Material Squadron (Special)
Det, 1st Communications Squadron
Det, 1st Weather Squadron

1 May 1945

556th Army Air Forces Base Unit (6th Ferrying Group)


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